Full disclosure: I am a proud Red-and-White-For-Life graduate of N.C. State and was at State during the final Jim Valvano years. Even so, I'm supremely confident in saying that you don't have to be an N.C. State fan, or even a basketball fan, to be moved by tonight's excellent ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, "Survive and Advance."
You only need a beating heart and a little warm blood running through your veins.
"Survive and Advance," the story of the 1983 N.C. State basketball team's unlikely march to an NCAA championship under the guidance of former coach Jim Valvano, has been described by at least one television critic as a documentary that "makes grown men cry." Well, I have it on good authority that some people don't just tear up once or twice while watching, they pretty much cry all the way through it. Jonathan Hock's documentary is an hour and 42 minutes long, and I think I had varying degrees of tear production through about an hour and 35 minutes of it.
You may try and resist -- and good luck to you -- but you won't stand chance. The eyes will sting. The film's warm and fuzzy clips of "the shot," along with Valvano joking around with his players and members of the press, or sharing inspirational memories of his father, are interspersed with more sobering moments from player Lorenzo Charles' funeral, Valvano's forced resignation from N.C. State, and the former coach's cancer diagnosis. The moments where Valvano's friend, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, shares memories of the time they spent together during Valvano's illness and on the day Valvano died, are especially moving.
I found "Survive and Advance" an emotionally wrenching joy to watch. For every tear I cried there was just as much laughter. I especially loved the festive moments from a reunion of some of the '83 players at the Players Retreat in Raleigh, which run throughout the film (let's just say Dereck Whittenburg, who is also an executive producer of the doc, has an infectious laugh.)
Hock's film not only captures the magic of the N.C. State basketball team in that 1983 season and the magic of Valvano (yes, magic), it's a warming reminder of very different, if not simpler, times in college sports. As UNC coach Roy Williams points out early in the film, players weren't leaving after one year for the NBA, they hung around longer. "The games were better, the players were better," he says. After watching this, it's hard to argue.
Valvano famously said in his 1993 ESPY acceptance speech that "If you laugh, you think and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day."
If that's your criteria for a full day (and it's pretty good criteria), I promise that "Survive and Advance" will complete your day.
"Survive and Advance" airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. on ESPN. (Look for repeats on ESPN2 at midnight and at 2 am tonight; on March 22 at 2 a.m. and 8 p.m.; and on March 24 at 6 a.m.)